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'Repatriation' Skips Ideology by Design

2004/03/04 | Permalink | Source

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Interview with director Kim Dong Won

Park Hyeong Sook (internews)

"Songhwan (Repatriation)", a Korean documentary about the lives of North Korean infiltrators captured in the South during the early sixties, won the Freedom of Expression Award at the this year's Sundance Film Festival, held January 16 to 25 in Park City, Utah, USA.

Twelve years in the making, it is the story of how the North Korean operatives were returned to the North in September 2000, after almost 30 years in prison. The film will be released in Korea on March 19.

OhmyNews recently interviewed director Kim Dong Won. He said he spent twelve years and 500 videotapes before the film was completed. Some excerpts:

OhmyNews: Rumor has it that North Korean agents who remain in the South were less than satisfied with the film?

Kim Dong Won: Those that have seen it say they agree with the humanism of the film but feel it's missing the camaraderie they share together and aspects of ideological struggle. They asked whether I checked to see if the picture of hungry children really is from the North. Ideological issues were dealt with in Hong Gi Seop's film "Seontaek", about the life of Yi In Mo. I didn't leave out political ideology to belittle their resistance to the South's attempts to get them to renounce their political beliefs.

OhmyNews: You've said that the agents who were repatriated looked happy but would probably find life in the North difficult.

Kim Dong Won: The South was enemy territory. The tension that created became a source of motivation in their everyday lives. Once back in the North, the tension must have gone away, and in its absence they are probably spending a lot of time in inward reflection. They are probably still adjusting to a North Korea that is unlike the one they left, and they probably miss the people they came to know while in the South.

OhmyNews: What was the hardest scene to shoot?

Kim Dong Won: They day they were repatriated. I really wanted to catch it with my camera, but even as I was doing so I felt very uncomfortable. Kim Yeong Sik, who had renounced his political beliefs, was not permitted to return. He sat there vacantly looking off into the distance. I felt so bad I couldn't shoot him for more than two seconds. Later I slowed that footage to eight seconds. I really felt cruel.

OhmyNews: You avoided any aspects of ideological anguish on the part of the agents and approached their story from a purely humanist perspective. What were your reasons?

Kim Dong Won: I'm a hopeless liberalist. Like others, I spend time agonizing over ideology in the eighties but I'm critical of Kim Il Sung-ism, which denies human rights and freedom of thought, while at the same time I wanted to say that American imperialism supplied reason for the North's situation. Relations of power are relative, just as the South's dictatorships were able to rule through the existence of the North. That's why there's a problem with one-sided criticism of North Korea.

OhmyNews: What message did you set out to convey?

Kim Dong Won: I wanted to talk to the younger generation about reunification. Instead of just saying "reunification has to happen" to people who aren't interested or get a headache thinking about it, I wanted the audience to instead feel something about the subject after seeing the film. I wanted to speak freely about unification.

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